Winter Report Card: Philadelphia Phillies
With little more than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2013.
2013 results: 73-89 (.451), 4th place NL East (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: OF Roger Bernadina, RHP Tyler Cloyd, RHP Roy Halladay, C Eric Kratz, UT Michael Martinez, RHP Zach Miner, IF Pete Orr, RHP J.C. Ramirez, OF Casper Wells
Key arrivals: SS Reid Brignac, OF Marlon Byrd, RHP Shawn Camp, SS Ronny Cedeno, RHP Roberto Fausto Hernandez, RHP Brad Lincoln, C Lou Marson, C Wil Nieves, OF Clete Thomas
After a delusional offseason a year ago in which general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. ignored his aging roster and doubled down on getting Young (Delmon and Michael) instead of getting younger (the trade for Ben Revere excepted) — and yes, that joke continues to age better than this team — the 2013 Phillies stumbled to the franchise’s worst record since 1997.
A year later, Amaro continues to operate as though the team needs just needs a few minor touch-ups to return to contention. He hasn’t done anything that can reverse Philadelphia’s fate, or much to reduce its bloated payroll other than to avoid goading Roy Halladay (who made $20 million in 2013 but gave the team just 13 starts and a 6.82 ERA) into an attempted return instead of retirement.
Tellingly, Amaro’s first big move this offseason was to sign Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million deal. The 36-year-old rightfielder should provide better production than the .243/.305/.405 the team got from Delmon Young, John Mayberry Jr., Damon Ruf and company at the spot last season, and he should produce enough value over the course of his short-term contract to justify the expense. Even so, the odds of him repeating a .291/.336/.511 showing with career highs in homers (24) and WAR (5.0) appear long, and the lineup really didn’t need a fifth regular in his age-34 season or older.
Indeed, Amaro acted quickly to retain the lineup’s one aging free agent starter, Carlos Ruiz. In a market that didn’t lack for catching options to fit every budget, he leapt at the chance to re-sign the going-on-35-year-old to a three-year, $26 million deal. A popular as Chooch may be, he’s coming off a season shortened by a hamstring injury and a suspension for testing positive for a banned stimulant, not to mention a meager .268/.320/.368 line, his worst showing with the bat since 2008. After trading backup Eric Kratz and oft-dealt minor leaguer Rob Rasmussen to the Blue Jays in exchange for reliever Brad Lincoln, Amaro stocked the backup catching slot with both Wil Nieves (36 and coming off a career year with the bat, .297/.320/.369 in 206 PA) and former Phillies draftee Lou Marson, who has graduated to the organizational-depth phase of his career.
Lincoln has never lived up to being chosen fourth overall in the 2006 draft. Even after having apparently found his calling in the bullpen, he made more appearances at Triple-A Buffalo than Toronto in 2013, totaling just 31 2/3 innings in 22 big league appearances with a 3.98 ERA but a beefy 5.51 FIP. He’s penciled in as Philadelphia’s team’s top righty setup man, at least until Mike Adams recovers from a July 31 shoulder cleanup. Thirty-eight-year-old Shawn Camp could provide some support if he bounces back from a lost season (7.04 ERA in 23 innings with the Cubs, limited by a toe injury).
At the other end of the pitching staff, Roberto Hernandez (the former Fausto Carmona) was signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal — a 38 percent raise over last year — to provide some innings at the back of the rotation. They likely won’t be good ones, given his 4.89 ERA (78 ERA+) in 151 innings with the Rays, a mark inflated by a steep 1.4 homers per nine. That said, he’s gone from the AL East and did post by far the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career (3.0), so perhaps the 33-year-old righty can offer a few surprises. He joins a rotation that’s fronted by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, with Kyle Kendrick and high-ceiling Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez rounding out the unit.
Unfinished business: A bona fide rebuilding effort
The Phillies just signed a 25-year, $2.5 billion television deal with Comcast, one that includes an equity stake that makes the deal even more valuable and should guarantee long-term prosperity for the franchise. With their future secured but their farm system somewhat threadbare and their payroll bloated ($141.6 million committed to just 11 players), now would be an ideal time to embark on a full-scale rebuilding effort instead of trying to prop up an aging core in a manner reminiscent of the Ed Wade-era Astros, digging the franchise a massive hole while pretending to contend for years.
Such a turnaround effort isn’t happening yet. Amaro has been hesitant to embark upon restocking the system via seemingly obvious moves such as trading Lee (still owed $62.5 million over the next two seasons, including an option buyout) during a winter with no obvious ace available, or biting the bullet and sending disgruntled Jonathan Papelbon ($26 million remaining over two years, plus a vesting option) out of town; a willingness to eat salary in either case would bring back prospects of substance.
The closest thing to a possibility would appear to be dealing Jimmy Rollins, who’s 35 and coming off career lows in WAR (0.2) and OPS (.667, via a .252/.318/.348 line). He’s owed $11 million for 2014 with options of $11 million (vesting), $8 million (club) and $5 million (player) for 2015. Amaro was said to be shopping him last month, but such a move could be complicated by Rollins’ full no-trade clause. Lee has a partial no-trade clause, for what it’s worth.
Preliminary Grade: D+
The aging and expensive Phillies are clearly going nowhere. They haven’t spent a whole lot of money this winter, but what they have spent won’t do anything to change the fact that they’re headed for another season of mediocrity.